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Neil Bantleman sex assault trial: Judge bans talking to media

02/01/2015 04:57 EST | Updated 04/03/2015 05:59 EDT
A judge in Indonesia has told parties in the case of Burlington teacher Neil Bantleman not to speak to the media, frustrating supporters and defence attorneys and attracting the attention of an Indonesian government official, according to media coverage in Jakarta. 

Bantleman, who holds Canadian and British citizenship, and Indonesian teacher's aide Ferdinant Tjiong, have been in custody since July stemming from allegations they sexually abused three schoolchildren at the Jakarta Intercultural School, where both worked. They deny committing any crime. 

Because the case involves allegations of sexual abuse against children, the case has already been closed to the public. But recently, chief judge on the case Nur Aslam Bustaman ordered the defendants, witnesses and attorneys on both sides not to speak publicly about what goes on in court, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The move by the chief judge to tell attorneys and defendants not to speak about what happened inside closed doors is unusual outside of military trials, Jakarta Post reporter Indra Budiari told CBC Hamilton.

"As far as I know, this is the first time a judge [has made] this kind of policy," Budiari said via online chat. "There is no gag order in our law."

An earlier related case involving several cleaners from the school involved no such ban. 

'Way too much'

Last week, the judge's ban publicly drew the attention of EmanSuparman, who heads the Indonesian government's judge monitoring and investigation division, according to the Jakarta Post.

Judges have no authority to prevent information flow and communication between lawyers or prosecutors and the media, Eman told the Post. 

"“[The policy] is way too much," Eman is quoted as saying. "Prosecutors and lawyers have the right to talk to the press and public.” Eman said. 

The judges, prosecutors and defence attorneys all refused to talk with a Wall Street Journal reporter outside of court this week. Prosecutor Sandhy Handika contended the ban on information is a matter of judge discretion, according to the Journal.

The ban on sharing information is frustrating for the typically outspoken defenders of Bantleman and Tjiong. Tracy Bantleman, Neil's wife, said in a statement shared with CBC Hamilton she is pursuing legal advice on how to proceed.

The next date in the teachers' trial is Tuesday when Bantleman's supporters say they expect the prosecution will call its last witnesses. The trial is expected to last several more months before a verdict hearing, which will be open to the public. 

Budiari, the Jakarta Post reporter, said she thinks public sentiment in Jakarta has shifted in the case. 

"At first they tend to believe the teachers were guilty," she said. "But I think the opinion [has] shifted." Now, she said, it seems more people believe "the teachers were charged with a very shaky indictment."

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